The subject for this post is another leading world religion – Hinduism. Although I believe Hinduism is a dying religion, one that may be in its last days, it still is an influential religion, especially in America (and by this I mean through spiritualism, paganism (yes, I'm talking to you Edward Oleander) and the New Age movement). And so, I hope by this post to help others see Hinduism's influence in America, and to better understand Hinduism's basic beliefs. So let's get started!
Hinduism is the main religion in India. If you saw the movie 'Gandhi', you may remember Gandhi's disappointment after Great Britain left India and gave India its first taste of freedom (becoming an independent nation in 1947). Then the Muslim league forced a partition where the Muslims left India and formed Pakistan. And so, the basic division in this area of the world is that India mostly has a Hinduism religion, while its neighbor Pakistan is mostly Islamic. And so, there is an historical tension between these two countries, with both having atomic weapons.
Introduction: Parable of the 3 blind men and the elephant. 3 blind men are each touching a different part of an elephant and asked to describe it. The first is holding the elephant's massive leg and says the elephant is like a great tree. The 2nd is holding its trunk and says the elephant is like a snake. While the 3rd is touching the elephant's side, says the elephant is like a great wall. Is religion in the world like this metaphor?
My Conclusion: Hinduism and Buddhism stress basic moral actions and peace. But they neglect the most important aspect of life: which is love. First, they discourage getting close to others because of the potential pain which this brings, through distancing. I think the best part of life is the love you share with others. 2nd these religions are so self focused, with a notion of self-centeredness they again miss a great joy in life, namely the joy of helping and serving others. Let's take a closer look at Hinduism:
- Hinduism – Makes up 13% of the world's population, most of its adherents are in India. Hinduism is a general term for those living in the Indus Valley (present day Pakistan).
- Monism: impersonal oneness as its concept of God.
- Brahman is the creator god. Brahman is ultimate reality, an impersonal oneness that is beyond all distinctions, including personal and moral distinctions.
- World is viewed as bad. Only way to escape endless chain of birth, life and reincarnation is to become enlightened. So fundamental concept of Hinduism is to distance oneself from everything.
- Most Hindus view the universe as continuous with and extended from the Being of Brahman;
- No founder, no prophet, no set creed.
- Early on the religion was clearly polytheistic. Hindu deities include Indra, Agni, Siva, and Vishnu. But as religion developed, concept of monism developed, where it advocates worshipping many lesser deities, who are all considered as part of Brahman.
- Tremendously Varied beliefs in Hinduism – but 5 unifying concepts:
- Brahman – impersonal nature of Brahman;
- Tat tvam asi ("That thou art") – Most Hindus believe that our true selves ("atman") are extended from and one with Brahman. Just as the air inside an open jar is identical to the air surrounding the jar, so we are as Brahman.
- Karma – the moral equivalent of the law of cause and effect, i.e. we reap what we sow. The effects of our present actions follow us not only in our present lifetime, but also to our future lives.
- Samsara ("reincarnation") – ever revolving wheel of life, death, and rebirth. We reap the consequences of the deeds we committed in past lifetimes. A person's karma determines the kind of body, human, animal, or insect, into which he will be reincarnated in the next lifetime.
- Moksha ("liberation") – solution is to be liberated from the wheel of life, death, and rebirth. Realizing the concept of self is an illusion and only undifferentiated oneness with Brahman is real attains such liberation. Must detach oneself with the desires of the ego and thereby attain enlightenment.
- Brahman – impersonal nature of Brahman;
- Most of its believers live in India – 82% of Indians are Hindu, some 700 million people.
- also majority religion in Nepal, Bali, and Mauritius.
- Hinduism is the oldest living religion, having begun in approximately 1500 BC in India. Although some consider it more of a personal philosophy than a religion.
- Hinduism has evolved. E.g. religion was seriously changed after the Aryan invasion in 1500 BC.
- Hinduism is Mystical, attempting to reach higher/different spiritual and mental transformation.
- Shruti revealed scripture consisting of Vedas ("knowledge") – the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Atharva Veda;
- Each Veda is divided into 4 parts: the Mantras (the basic verses or hymns), the Brahmanas (explanations of the verses), the Aran-yakas (reflections on their meaning), and the Upanishads (the mystical interpretations of the verses);
- Rig Veda is most important and the most foundational of the Vedas;
- Smriti scripture is remembered scripture, or secondary scripture. Included in the smriti is the popular Ramayana (Rama's way), Mahabharata (the great story) epics which includes the most popular of all Hindu scriptures – the Bhagavad Gita (the most influential of Hindu scriptures) whose main character is Krishna. While smriti is not as authoritative as shruti scriptures, it is still very influential on the culture of India because of their popularity.
- The Gita teaches the concept of nonattached action, or karma yoga. Nonattached action is acting without seeking the fruits of your action. This is a way of devotion to God. Do not become attached to anything (or anyone?) in this world, because attachment is what causes pain.
- Other smriti scriptures include the Vedangas (codes of law), the Puranas (genealogies and legends of the gods), the Darshanas (philosophical writings), the Sutras (rules of ritual and social conduct), and the Tantras (writings on attaining occultic power).
- Upanishads ("sit down near") – at the end of the Vedas. They teach the idea that behind the many gods stands the One Reality (Brahman).
- The Sacred Cow – Krishna is commonly portrayed as a cowherd. The cow is a living symbol of Mother Earth, and of the bounty she bestows on humankind. Feeding the cow, is a sacred act of worship. Cow urine is sacred, being used for example in purification rites.
- OM – sacred syllable, 1st letter in the Hindu alphabet? Which is identified with reality itself. Used in meditation.
- Highest form of Brahman is nirvana, which means "without attributes or qualities".
- 6 Hindu Schools of Thought ("Dharsana"):
- Sankhya: overcoming distance between individual and absolute consciousness;
- Yoga: the path followed so as to realize the Supreme Self within. Provides health, little human waste, clear complexion, being light, pleasant BO, a sweet voice, and absence of greedy desires;
- Nyaya: deals with Hindu logic and epistemology;
- Vaisheshika: a branch of the Nyaya school that emphasizes materialism and the classifications of matter. It teaches that the smallest and most indestructible part of the universe is the atom;
- Purva Mimamsa: establish correct understanding of the Vedas and their injunctions;
- Uttara Mimamsa: ("posterior study") concerned largely with study and interpretation of the Vedas.
- 3 Paths to Enlightenment – karma marga (the way of action and ritual); jnana marga (the way of knowledge and meditation); and, bhakti marga (the way of devotion). The goal of enlightenment is to lose ones' separate identity in the Universal Self.
- Sacred Sites: sacred river is the Ganges. Once every 12 years as many as 10 million people share in a ritual bathing. Most sacred city is Varanasi, which is the place for a Hindu to die.
- **Classes and Castes – 4 class groupings in the poem of creation, leading to a belief that a hierarchic structure in society is part of the divine order. The classes are the priestly order (the Brahmins), the rulers/warriors, the landowners/merchants/bankers, and the workers/artisans/serfs/and unwashed. Sacred thread is worn to show highest status. Marriage, eating prevented among people in different castes. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT reason why Christianity is spreading quickly though the under-classes of India in recent years, where Hinduism treats the large numbers of unwashed in India as having no value, and Christianity treats them as having worth and worthy of being loved.
- Trinity of Brahman (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer).
Vishnu has left the heavenly realms and has become incarnate in 1 of 10 forms (avatars) to restore and preserve Brahman's creation. These forms are fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion, dwarf, Rama with an axe, King Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and the future incarnation, Kalkin.
- Sri Krishna when in human form had 16,000 wives.
- Brahman's consort is Sarasvati (goddess of knowledge, learning and truth); Vishnu's wife is Lakshmi (goddess of fortune and beauty); and, Shiva's consort is Kali/Durga, the 'great mother' and is a symbol of judgment and death.
- Essence of Hindu every day life is Karma, meditation, and rituals.
- **Karma: Bagh. Gita: it is wrong to fulfill someone else's dharma (actions). It is better to do your own dharma poorly than to perform another's dharma well. This is why no one helps the poor or the lame in India, because it is viewed as people getting what they deserve. This is also why Mother Teresa was so needed in India. Hindus view helping the poor and helpless as an interference with the other person's karma.
- Meditation/yoga: deep and continuous reflection to attain self-realization. Focus is entirely on self, reaching the higher Atman (our true selves). Thought is discouraged, which is why chanting is used.
- Rituals: E.g. the 16 domestic rituals (upcaras) to act as the god's host by leading the deity in, offer him a seat, offer him a sacrificial meal, etc. Shrines also used where sacrifices are made.
- All moral law is relative. No good or evil.
- Idols – primary way of contacting Brahman through idols and symbolic representations. The idols are actually viewed as god.
- Reverence for Life leads some Hindus not to eat meat, while other Hindus sacrifice animals to their gods. However, the real purpose of not hurting others seems to be for your karma, and not out of respect for other living beings. See story of Krishna and Arjuna in the Gita. Do you see where the American group PETA gets its value that animal life is at least equal to human life?
- Different Paths up the mountain – Hinduism is viewed as a tolerant religion that accepts other religions, as merely other aspects of Braham. I.e. different ways up the mountain to attaining life's ultimate goal. Jesus, Allah, Buddha are viewed as avatars of Vishnu, or different expressions of the Divine Manifestation. Ramakrishna teaches it is foolishness to say my religion alone is true. Instead, all religions are glorious.
- New Age Movement – popular American "spiritual" movement. A smorgasbord of various religious ideas, with its followers picking and choosing which ideas to incorporate. Includes ideas from Hinduism, Buddhism, Wiccan (witch), astrology, channeling, and parapsychology. Popular advocate is Shirley MacLaine who believes in past lives and being able to channel to those past lives. God is viewed as impersonal being or force. Transcendental meditation is belief in unlimited power of the human mind, which can tap unlimited (even godlike) powers. MacLaine's famous line: "I am god".
Conclusion – So why do I believe Hinduism is a dying religion, and will inevitably disappear? Hindus face two challenges – one from inside India, and the other from outside of it. The outside challenge is from Islam, which is more aggressive, and more numerous. But the inside challenge to Hinduism may be the greater threat. Inside of India, Christianity is making great inroads, especially with the large numbers of poor. Why would the poor follow a religion that tells them because of an immoral past life (through reincarnation) they were born into the poorest caste of India's society, and that they should remain there (because of Karma)? While Christianity teaches them they are born in God's image, that God's Son viewed them as having such value that He died on the Cross for them, and that God loves them.